Toilet Use is a Descriptive Norm: The Influence of Social Expectations on Toilet Use in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India

24 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2022

See all articles by Erik Thulin

Erik Thulin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alex Shpenev

University of Pennsylvania - Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics

Sania Ashraf

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Upasak Das

University of Manchester

Jinyi Kuang

University of Pennsylvania

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: October 2021

Abstract

Open defecation is a global public health issue. We applied Bicchieri’s Social Norms Framework to diagnose this behavior and determine what type of interventions could be effective in the Indian context. We conducted a mixed method study in rural, urbanizing, and slum areas of Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Using data from randomly selected individuals (n=5052) we assessed toilet use, empirical expectations (beliefs about what other people do), normative expectations (beliefs about what other people think one should do), and the dependence of toilet use behavior on those expectations. We found that empirical expectations were a strong driver of toilet use, while normative expectations had negligible predictive value. Only a minority of respondents believed there were any negative sanctions for defecating in the open. Taken together, these findings indicate that toilet use is a descriptive norm. We therefore conclude that nudges in the form of information about similar other’s improved practices might be an effective behavior change strategy to improve toilet use.

Keywords: sanitation, toilet use, behavior change, collective behaviors, norms, India

Suggested Citation

Thulin, Erik and Shpenev, Alex and Ashraf, Sania and Das, Upasak and Kuang, Jinyi and Bicchieri, Cristina, Toilet Use is a Descriptive Norm: The Influence of Social Expectations on Toilet Use in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India (October 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3977166 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3977166

Erik Thulin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alex Shpenev

University of Pennsylvania - Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics

United States

Sania Ashraf

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Upasak Das

University of Manchester ( email )

Manchester
United Kingdom

Jinyi Kuang

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Cristina Bicchieri (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-5820 (Phone)

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